Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Peter Whale on On comments – and some commentary on some Brexit comments
6000 on On comments – and some commentary on some Brexit comments
Brian Micklethwait on Why I like Cricinfo
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Brian Micklethwait on New York construction cranes in action
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Friday Night SMoke on English is weird
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Ben on Incoming imagery from Antoine
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- UCH footbridge
- On comments – and some commentary on some Brexit comments
- Are London’s cranes about to depart for a few years?
- The new Tate Modern extension from inside Blackfriars Station
- Brexit graphics
- Brilliant Brian’s Last Friday talk
- Referendum day graphics
- Big Things and viewing galleries in the Square Mile
- Why I like Cricinfo
- English is weird
- The Union Jack’s near death experience(s?)
- New York construction cranes in action
- Some thoughts on the Izzard effect
- Lioness eats camera
- An MP murdered
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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This and that
Well, I was wrong about there not being anything up here today apart from links to me on Samizdata, because here is the latest recorded conversation between me and Antoine, about democracy and libertarianism. It’s just under forty minutes in length. And I did manage to get this up before our end-of-the-month deadline.
It’s more abstract and vague and less dependent upon recent events than usual, and my sense is that this didn’t really work. Normally, if people think something in the blogosphere is not very good, they are sane and polite enough just to move on in silence. But here is a case where I would really like to know what you thought, even if you thought it rather poor, and particularly if you thought it poor and usually like the chats that Antoine and I do rather more. And, of course, I would be equally interested if you thought it was fine, or even better than usual. In fact, any general advice about how Antoine and I should go about these things would be greatly appreciated.
I also have in the can the conversation that Alex and I had about Gilbert and Sullivan. This felt far better to me, because we had both done some homework. But alas, technically there were problems, with me being much quieter than Alex. Further work will be needed before that sees the light of day. Live and learn.
Anyway, I mention that G&S chat because I think that homework is a good idea for these things, especially when it’s with the same person again and again and there isn’t the simple fact of meeting a new person to keep things lively. Each time, we need to really get to grips with a new subject, but alas, this time, as we joked afterwards rather ruefully, this was something of a “quota podcast”.
I think that Antoine and I need to decide on our topic not hours before, but a couple of weeks before. That way, we keep our eyes and ears peeled for relevant stories, and generally learn some good stuff in advance, like I did about G & S.
Like I say, live and learn.
There’s a beautiful set of 2006 retrospective photos taken by Michael Jennings, from all over the world, and displayed for all the world to see at Samizdata.
My favourites are Shanghai, ancient in the foreground and ultra-modern looming up in the background, and the Barcelona sculpted bench, presumably by Gaudi.
My least favourite is, obviously, the final one, of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Lots of signs. Signs are, in my opinion, an underrated resource to the photographer. A picture, says the boring slogan, is worth a thousand words. Nonsense, on the whole, I would say, because it suggests a false choice that you actually don’t have to make between the two. Pictures work best when combined with words to explain them, and words can work better if illustrated and decorated with pictures. And, including words in your picture is often particular fun and particularly informative.
I have two recorded conversations in the can which need processing before the end of the month, but two parties to attend, this evening and, of course, tomorrow evening. So, I need something quick and dirty up here now, to enable me to work on those recordings without time pressure, and still be able to go partying.
So, something that really doesn’t matter and which I therefore don’t care about getting rather wrong. I know: cricket.
Boycott and Agnew were on the telly at the end of the most recent slaughter, number four in the present series, saying that England are not trying hard enough. The England camp are adamant that they are trying like hell.
I tend to believe the England camp and to disbelieve their critics, at any rate on that particular point. England are trying hard all right. Their problem is that no matter what they do, and no matter how hard they try, they are not succeeding. This makes them despondent, and when in the field now, or when batting now, and not surprisingly, they look despondent. But this despondence is not a consequence of their waining desire to be successful. It is the consequence of precisely the fact that they do want to be successful, but can’t manage it.
If they weren’t so sad about it all, they actually wouldn’t now be in such a death spiral, because their earlier defeats wouldn’t matter to them that much. They’d just carry on playing in the same old way. As it is, because they care so much, their morale is now in tatters, and as Boycott rightly said, they are actually now getting worse and worse.
The killer was game two, where England clocked up over five hundred, declared and took early Australian wickets, but then after Australia had climbed to a similar total, England rolled over in their second innings and lost. If we lost from that position, they must have felt, we can lose from any position. We will never be safe from impending slaughter. Meanwhile, the Aussies learned that, no matter how tricky things may look at any particular moment, one further bout of pom-bashing will (a) probably happen and (b) win them the game.
In slaughter four the horror of slaughter two repeated itself, but earlier in the game. England crumpled in their first innings on day one, but Australia then semi-crumpled themselves, to eighty odd for five. Okay, one of those five was a nightwatchman, but still, the game look vaguely, you know, “poised”. But then Hayden and Symonds hit big hundreds and it was game over. Australia had lost Langer for very little, and then Ponting, Hussey and Clarke and (immediately after the big stand) Gilchrist all got out for single figures. Between them those five top class batters made less than fifty. Yet still, Australia won by an innings.
England are definitely weaker than they were when winning the 2005 Ashes. No Simon Jones. Vaughan not available to captain. Flintoff wounded. Trescothick out of it. Harmison in continuing decline, having already, actually, been on the slide during the 2005 Ashes win by England. That England won those Ashes with Harmison only once making much impact, on the first morning of the first game (which England lost), is extraordinary.
Even more extraordinary, as my Aussie friend Michael Jennings said when it happened and ever since, is that England won the 2005 Ashes despite Shane Warne taking forty wickets.
Australia lost that 2005 series (a) because England for long periods played out of their skins. They lost (b) because, I insist, despite “outplaying” Australia a lot (but not always), England were very, very lucky. If cover had been five yards either way at the death of game two it would have been two-nil to Australia, and the catch behind the wicket that followed to give England a win by two runs looked very iffy. Later, England did one of their last day crumbles on the way to winning their second victory and nearly cocked that up also. At the time England fans were telling me that England’s last day crumble then didn’t signify, as if playing badly only counts if you do it on the first day. Well, in that decisive second game of this current Ashes series, England on the last day crumbled again, and since they needed sixty more runs than they did in that earlier 2005 game, this last day crumble cost them the match, and any hope of making a serious fight of the series.
And Australia lost the 2005 Ashes (c) because, great though he is, the one and only Shane Warne couldn’t do it entirely on his own against a very decent England side. His was the only world-class Australian performance in that 2005 series. The rest of the Australian team just didn’t do well enough. McGrath, having won the first game for Australia, trod on a ball just before game two and was never the same again, and their back-up quicks (now replaced) also failed. Their batting (now similarly beefed up) also stuttered against excellent bowling from Flintoff, Hoggard and Simon Jones.
And one might add (d) that England lost in 2006/7 because their bowlers have never been so good in Australia as they are in England. I remember a nightmare series in Australia in 1958/9, when England - with Trueman(!!!), Statham(!!), Tyson(!!), Laker(!!!) and Lock(!) (plus Loader and the useful if unthreatening Trevor Bailey to back them up) doing the bowling – which England, having won gloriously (i.e. 2-1) in England in 1956, lost in Australia 4-0. This kind of thing has happened before.
Finally, it comes down to Warne, the greatest bowler ever, in my opinion and that of many, many others.
The outstanding test match batsman ever is another Australian, Bradman. Bradman didn’t play that much test cricket, compared to what the best batsmen play nowadays, if only because of World War 2, and many later test batsman have scored many more runs than Bradman did. But Bradman’s batting average shoots off the top of the page. The best of the rest of the test match batters have averages of fifty or sixty or thereabouts. Bradman averaged as near as dammit - i.e. four instead of the duck that he actually got in his very last innings - a hundred.
Warne’s statistical pre-eminence is most obviously that, as of now, he has taken the most test match wickets: 706 with just one match to go. But Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka is not far behind on 674 and rising, and Warne’s average is not that wonderful. He doesn’t even register on this list, for instance, which is the list of people with bowling averages of less than 25. (Murali, with an average of just under 22 makes that list in fine style.)
Except that Warne’s bowling average, of just over 25, actually is rather wonderful, because he is a leg break bowler.
Usually spin bowlers can do one of two things. They can bowl accurately and spin it only a bit, unless the pitch is helping them a lot. Think: Monty Panesar. Or they can spin it a lot, even if the pitch is not much help, but bowl rather inaccurately. Think: just about every spin bowler who ever spun it a lot. Warne spins it a lot, even on the most unhelpful pitches, and he is amazingly accurate.
One record that Warne will probably not lose to Murali is his current record for the most maiden overs bowled by a bowler in test match cricket: 1760. That statistic, more than any other, and when you put it beside his most wickets by a bowler total, see above, captures the magic of Warne. He is the bowling equivalent of what captains are reputed to tell batsmen: play your shots, but don’t get out. Warne takes wickets, but doesn’t give away runs. And, being a leg break bowler instead of a quick bowler, he can keep going for hour after hour, and for year after year. Even now, with his retirement announced, he is still right at the top of his game and looks good enough to carry on for a few more years yet. (My guess is there’s a back story there, involving family, but what do I know?) Actually, Warne will be carrying on for a couple more years, for Hampshire, and it will be extremely interesting to see how well he does for them, given that this will now be the only outlet for his still amazing abilities.
What all of the above has meant for the teams facing Australia is that, basically, what with Australia’s fast bowlers tending to be pretty good also (McGrath etc.), there are, against Australia, no easy runs.
Most test match bowling attacks – England’s current bowling attack is a typical example – have stretches when they are quite menacing, but other periods when they are on the defensive, waiting while front line bowlers either rest or bowl less fiercely, and for the new ball to arrive. (Think Hayden and Symonds flogging it to all parts, after Australia had been 84-5.) But when Warne is bowling against you, there will be no respite. Every over you ever face against these damned guys is going to be a struggle. The fast bowlers, knowing that whatever strong position they establish in the early stages of an innings will be exploited rather than frittered away by tired or second-rank bowlers later in the innings, can exhaust themselves, confident that they probably won’t have to bowl again before they have recovered their puff. Meanwhile the batsman are dispirited from the get-go by the prospect of having to fight like savages for every run they will ever make. So, even if Warne eventually walks off the pitch with, I don’t know, 15 overs 4 maidens 55 runs 1 wicket, he has still contributed mightly, just by being there. And of course it is just as likely to be 25 overs 9 maidens 45 runs 4 wickets, or 5 or 6 or 7. In the most recent game, Warne’s first innings analysis, on the first day (when the wicket was only supposed to be helping the quick bowlers), was: 17.2 overs 4 maidens 39 runs 5 wickets.
The thing is, England are by no means a hopelessly bad side, as I fully expect them to prove next summer back in England against whoever it is that they will then be playing. Their test match ranking, right up until this latest debacle, was: 2! (Their one-day ranking is a different story.) The huge stand by Pietersen and Collingwood in game two this time around was, especially for the Warne-related reasons just explained, a truly wonderful achievement. Panesar got five wickets on his debut in game three. Flintoff, Hoggard and (yes) Harmison did reduce Australia to 84-5 in the most recent game. But wonderful for a half a day or even for a couple of days against this Australian side, with Warne firing on all cylinders, and some of the others always doing something else terrific, is just not good enough.
I repeat Michael Jennings’s point. The surprise is not that England are now losing. It is that, despite the presence of Warne at his best in 2005, they managed, just, to scrape a series win. That was the big surprise. Especially after that first 2005 game, which was extremely similar to what is now happening in Australia, and after which the Australians were justifiably optimistic that they might be about to make that series 5-0. This Samizdata posting of mine, from just before the 2005 Ashes series got under way, now makes interesting reading, to me anyway. I see that I made then many of the Warne points I have made again here.
This time, if Australia don’t make it 5-0, it will be a miracle.
So much for quick and dirty. That was long, and actually quite clean. It’s only a game, Brian. Only a game.
Coincidentally, while I was concocting the day before yesterday’s post about solo Bach on the violin, a violinist emailed to plug a violin show of his in London on January 4th, which I am going to try to go to.
I’m not sure that it will be entirely to my taste, for whatever that may matter. My preferences in violin playing veer away from the kind of pieces where they put a flower next to the violin on the CD cover. Too chocolate boxy for me. And judging by this lo-fi mp3 snippet , Simon Hewitt Jones’s preferred new stuff also sounds rather too chocolate boxy for me as well. As far as contemporary violin composing goes, I fancy a more busking-in-the-tube kind of style – more gutsy and rhythmic, like a cross between Bartok and drumless rock and roll, or something. But I am interested anyway, because at least the guy is putting himself about, and above all, making maximum use of the internet to do that.
I have a lot more respect for violinists like Vanessa-Mae Nicholson and Nigel Kennedy (whose fiftieth birthday was yesterday by the way), than a lot of music critics seem to have. The answers that Vanessae-Mae and Kennedy offer may not always be entirely convincing, but at least they are asking the right question: Where next for virtuoso violinists? I mean, never mind the Beethoven and Brahms concertos, the first of the Shostakovich concertos seems to get about one new recording a month these days. Hahn, Chang, Josefowicz, Skride, Hope, Khachatryan, they just keep on coming. These are all very fine performances, but these regular super-violinists are now deep into the land of diminishing returns - financially, artistically, and in terms of their overall contribution to the culture. I buy all such CDs, but only when I encounter them second hand for three quid which won’t pay their rent. The fact that new CDs now take no time to get to the bargain boxes that I see in the market, and at three quid straight away rather than eight quid like it was only a few years ago, says something, I think. These people used to be able to make a living from their recording contracts. Now their CDs are mere calling cards. But calling cards for what? Something has to give. Both Vanessa-Mae and Kennedy, in their different ways, are trying to see what might.
Besides which, what’s wrong with looking nice in a wet T-shirt?
Lots of other violin virtuosi are like Vanessa-Mae in also being very young and sexy. A common explanation for this is that the public only likes young and sexy violin virtuosi, like it only likes young and sexy film stars. But the violin virtuosi are also young and sexy because they are still young (and sexy because young) enough to be trying to make a go of their careers in the regular virtuoso way, but mostly failing. When they grow up, they will mostly give up, because the sums don’t add up. More fundamentally, what are they actually achieving?
So then what do they do? That’s the question. Then what? (Teach? That’s not an answer. That merely relocates the question.) Then what? is one of my favourite questions. Then what? when what we’re doing now fails, obviously. Then what? when what we’re doing now succeeds is more interesting. This is the predicament of the classical music profession now. They have recorded everything, superbly, bar the final ten percent of barrel scraping, and since recording is now so cheap and so easy, they might as well go on recording everything. But they can’t hit the big time with such recordings any more, the way you could if yours was only the first or the second recording of whatever you are doing, or for that matter only the fifth or tenth. So, what next?
Simon Hewitt Jones is already deep into that question, either because they won’t let him be a regular famous virtuoso with a nice if not massive recording contract, or because he has chosen not to go that way even if he could. Clearly the Internet is a huge part of the new answer, hence the obvious interestingness of something called ViolinMP3.com, which turns out to have a blog written by Simon HJ at the front of it, which, although I’m only guessing, it probably makes more sense to read here. (Straight to the blogroll with that. Although, alas, the monthly archiving seems not to work. Not for me, anyway. I could find my way to things eventually though, by hoping backwards via the “recent postings” option.)
If I do manage to get to that Jan 4 show, I will be especially listening out for the new compositions, because acquiring new repertoire is now the key issue for classically trained musicians. The best of them can scrape a living playing the same old stuff, but it is new and popular stuff that now matters, economically and artistically, as V-M and Kennedy have realised, and it is the composers of new and popular stuff, or the star commissioners of such new and popular stuff, who are the potential leaders of the classical music profession. This wasn’t true in 1960, because then what mattered was recording the back catalogue in super stereo. It didn’t matter how few people loved Boulez’s latest. But now, the economics of the classical music business hinges on the attractiveness to audiences of the new stuff. Whether the music itself gets called “classical” or something else is a bit of a detail, and it would probably be better if the regular classical critics were thrown into a paroxysm of indecision about that. That would suggest that something real was happening.
You may be wondering: why did it take until now (Simon HJ has been blogging since March of 2005) for me to clock this guy? Why did it take an email from Simon Hewitt Jones to me for me to find out about all this? Well, it just did, would be one answer. But a slightly better one might be to say that I find internetting very hard and that I plunged into blogging because it is the only kind of internetting that I find relatively easy and find to be relatively quickly rewarded (what with me being a writer who is still at the giving-it-away-to-attract-attention stage). So, I started blogging, about classical music and about lots of other things, but I still don’t do much else of an internetted nature, such as iTuning or YouTubing or EBaying or Amazoning or Flickring or MySpacing, or anything else interesting that I might be doing if I were better at such things than I am. But, nevertheless, Simon Hewitt Jones picked me up on his radar scanner, which is clearly far superior to mine, as part of his plugging of his Jan 4th event, and the connection was made. By him. But who cares? I am now permanently tuned in to what Simon HJ and co. are doing, and very pleased I am about it.
(One reason why Simon HJ is better at internetting than I am is that he has a clever techy/musician younger(?) brother. It’s a pity that the link at the top of this posting no longer works. I tried internet-researching brother Thomas and learned not much, but I did encounter this.)
In his email Simon HJ mentioned that he was at the same school as Alex Singleton (i.e. Dulwich), with whom I do classical internet chats. “Alex probably won’t remember me” blah blah, said Simon HJ, because he is younger than Alex. But in fact Alex does remember him. If you are a star violinist, a lot of the people you shared a school with will remember you, even if you are younger than them.
Plus, I have a feeling that of the other people in my immediate circle, this lady might also be particularly interested in Simon HJ’s activities, not so much because of the music as because of the internetting and blogging that goes with it. She likes almost anything, if internetting and blogging goes with it.
Alex and I will be going on Jan 4, I hope. If any of our London friends and acquaintances are interested in joining us and making a bigger party, they should get in touch. Soon. I don’t want to leave it too late.
Alex Singleton and I are doing our G&S chat this afternoon, and I am therefore still doing homework for that.
This Times article by John Carey strikes me as very good:
But escaping into a never-never land for an evening’s entertainment is not the same as suffering from existential angst or harbouring revolutionary urges. Mike Leigh, whose 1999 film Topsy-Turvy, about the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership, Topsy-Turvy, won two Oscars, and the gratitude of all G&S lovers, claims in his introduction that Gilbert was a “true anarchist” and a “proto-surrealist” who “anticipated the Theatre of the Absurd”. These seem shaky ideas. To treat the Savoy operas as a kind of chrysalis-phase in history’s triumphant advance towards André Breton or Ionesco bespeaks a naive belief in progress, and to imagine that Gilbert would have had any truck with anarchism is bizarre. The crucial fact about the Savoy operas is that they express the jubilant power of what was then the world’s top nation. They are as patriotic as Rule Britannia and as Victorian as the Albert Memorial. Author and audience both revelled in the knowledge that Britain was supreme, that herits [sic] army and navy were matchless, and that sheit [sic] ruled an empire on which the sun never set. Modern intellectuals may find these facts shameful and indecent, but that just means they should steer clear of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Quite so. Gilbert may have anticipated the Theatre of the Absurd, but that wasn’t what he thought he was doing.
But “herits”? And “sheit”? Later there is a “thatwho” twinned with a “theirits”. Well, you can see how itthat happened. “Oh, Iwe’ll decide about thatthose later.” And then heshethey forgot. I can remember when the Times was a great institution. The “Thunderer”. Some other nickname, perhaps involving two alternative versions of the same word, will perhapsmaybe have to be devisedinvented. It would seem that when it comes to embarrassing cock-ups and mis-spellings of the sort that many blogs commit routinely, the Big Old Media can do those also. The Media of the Absurd.
Perry de Havilland has things to say about newspapers, high traffic yet amateur bloggers such as he, and lone, even more traffic-impervious bloggers such as I, pointing out that although some newspapers, in particular the Guardian are doing blogging etc. very well, blogging etc. (in the case of the above article Times “on line") still won’t pay the salaries of all those massed ranks of print journos. Those salaries date from the age of printed and broadcast message scarcity, in which a show which was definitely better than the others attracted the attention of millions because what else was there? This age is now ending.
Many people only experience all this as a decline of standards, because all they see is the Big Old Media getting more voluminous (in ways they aren’t used to, like on the Internet or via lots of digital TV and radio channels, or free newspapers full of trash), and yet mostly worse.
Regular telly is now, for me, the worst it’s ever been, if all I ever wanted to do was watch the telly. But who wants to do that? Besides which there is now so much of it that if only five percent appeals, that’s still a lot, plus there’s lots of others stuff. TV is becoming more like books, in other words. Or, the Internet. Don’t moan. Discriminate. Find what you want. Don’t bitch about what you don’t want.
I wrote those previous two postings on the 23rd, and kind of set them like bombs to go off at 2 am on the 24th and the 25th. I didn’t want burglars to know that now (by which I mean then – English can be a strange language) was the time to attack and steal all my beautiful CDs, but now, I wouldn’t want you all think that all I ever do over Christmas is put stuff on my blog. Although, I did check it, to see that the postings had gone off properly, at my brother’s. But, burglars and humans, I am now back at the blog face.
One CD that burglars would, had they struck, have missed out on was my newly acquired set of the Bach for solo violin pieces by John Holloway, which I heard a bit of on CD review and gave myself, at something well on the way to full price, for Christmas. These CDs are fabulous, and I took them with me on my Christmas travels.
I particularly like the rather reverberant recording, done in a church. What this means is that each note is played in an ambience created by the previous few notes. It doesn’t sound like the solo violin is battling against its single note and at best double noted limitations, merely expressing itself with great confidence, like an on-form pianist or orchestra.
It helps that Holloway comes to this music from having earlier recorded other solo violin pieces written at the same time as and just before these Bach pieces. Bach is often played in a way that is too unspectacular, too lacking in special effects and in all round drama and pzazz. But Bach’s contemporaries didn’t listen to this music saying: “But of course, Beethoven will be even more dramatic.” They just said, or words to this effect: “Wow.”
Which is also my basic reaction to these Holloway performances. This page is record company puff, but I agree with it all.
Rarely has this music been played so naturally and with seeming effortlessness, with such a commanding knowledge of both formal proportions and idiomatic character. John Holloway, one of the most distinguished baroque violinists of our time, has researched and practiced these works for forty years. Specializing in the repertoire from the baroque period (1600-1750) he perceives Bach in the context of his predecessors and contemporaries - such as composers like Schmelzer, Biber, Veracini (whose works he has presented in highly praised recordings in recent years) rather than in the perspective of romantic and modern violin literature.
For what I think is an all too typical example of that latter tendency, try listening – or rather, I would say, don’t – to the recent and by many critics very well received recordings of these same pieces by Julia Fischer. Fischer is an excellent specimen of the modern virtuoso, who can play the hind legs off every concerto from Bach to Shostakovich and beyond. And she brings all that modern virtuoso method to her solo Bach recordings. But I really did not like them. All that Brahmsian straining for effect. But then, hardly anyone sounds as good as Holloway in this music, to my ear.
This is not at all, for me, an authentic-good-modern-bad thing. I have never heard an “authentic” performance of these pieces that I have liked a tenth as much as Holloway’s, in fact these are the first authentic performances of these things that I have not actively disliked. Typically, the authenticists yank the notes around something dreadful. Julia Fischer, who is said to have learned from the authenticists, merely combines modern virtuoso straining for maximum effect with a fatal dash of authentic lumpishness and lack of musical line. The best I can say for her is that she is perfectly in tune. But other modern virtuosi - such as Grumiaux, Perlman and (especially) Hilary Hahn - have achieved miracles of unstressed musicality in this music.
But I now think that Holloway is even better. He really does seem to have some special insight into how this music should be played, and he can really play. Which is the killer combination. He combines the musicality of the best modern virtuosi, with the kind of theatricality you usually only get when Bach is being played on the organ.
I like Bentleys, even if I could never tolerate the
Yes, have a nice day everyone. Here are some Christmassy snaps to divert and entertain, but not to take up a lot of time.
If I remember Christmas 2006 at all (and thanks to this blog I will remember it a little), I will remember it for the fog, and the premature sales. My favourite Christmas lights pictures this year were taken in the gloom of the later afternoon rather than in darkness.
The star is on top of a Christmas tree outside Parliament, photoed through the railings. In the middle is New Bond Street, all fog and London greyness. The lights in that part of town were amazingly feeble, these being among the better ones. As was the big spread on the front of Debenhams in Oxford Street, and I wasn’t the only one who liked that one. (I may start a new category of Billion Monkeys in gloves!) The official Oxford Street lights were, I thought, pathetic.
But the real story this Christmas in London was how much prodding from the shops it took to get people to empty their wallets. A combination of China and those ships brought us a surfeit of stuff and created London’s biggest ever Christmas buyer’s market. There was an eventual splurge, but only after prices on a lot of stuff had been slashed. These pix were all taken on December 19th, which was before the serious buying finally got under way.
Here are some rather better lights, on the left inside Habitat, Kings Road, and on the right, with weird inside-of-the-bus reflections thrown in, in Sloane Square.
I like that title, but if this is anything to go by, I think I’ll skip the thing itself.
For every problem, there is a solution:
Have you ever been sitting in front of your computer wishing you could play piano? Well, with this USB Roll-up Piano you can! With its unique roll-up design, the Roll-up Piano can go wherever you go!
This USB Roll-up Piano is the perfect USB Gadget for those that want to get a quick fix of piano playing! Let the music begin, order today!
Thank you engadget, who note that:
The keyboard also has more than 128 different instruments available . . .
As it happens, there are quite a lot of times when I do sit in front of my computer wishing I could play the piano. But what stops me is not the inability of my piano to roll-up, or its lack of a USB plug. It is my inability to play the piano, roll-up or otherwise, USB connected or not.
But I see what they are getting at. If you are already a fluent pianist you could have it with you at all times, together with a equally convenient mobile computer of some kind, to use in restaurants or libraries, or during musical arguments away from home in the course of which you need to illustrate particularly important musical points, during the intervals of concerts for instance. 128 different instruments should suffice for such purposes, although no doubt future models will have 256 or even 512 or 1024 instruments available for use, simultaneously if necessary.
If caught short on the tube without enough money to get home, you could whip it out and busk (provided you are able to sit cross-legged on the floor and reach forward), until the necessary resources have been donated. A sign saying “I only need three quid” should ensure that you will quickly be on your way.
Alex Singleton and I have just fixed to do our Gilbert and Sullivan chat on Thursday 28th. So, fingers crossed for that. Meanwhile, the decision to have fixed topics and a generally more disciplined approach to our ongoing classical music chat project continues to work wonderfully, at any rate for me, even before a recording button has been so much as pressed. There’s nothing like the chance to show off and the prospect of making a fool of myself to get me doing my homework.
I continue to read Hesketh Pearson Gilbert and Sullivan with extreme pleasure (see also this earlier posting here), and there follows another snippet from that delightful book. Something I did not know until now was that the premier of The Pirates of Penzance was given in New York, in December 1879. Gilbert and Sullivan both went there to do their own ‘official’ production of their first big hit, HMS Pinafore, in order to cash in on American enthusiasm for that piece, but American reluctance to bother with copyright law. And having gone there to do Pinafore, they stayed to do their next collaboration, not at all coincidentally given a title which included the word Pirates.
During recent years, American orchestras have been pricing themselves out of the classical music recording business, and even American classical repertoire has been recorded by cheaper European orchestras, rather then by the ensembles for whom it was originally written. Well, it seems that this American tendency towards orchestral bolshiness is not new. Here is Pearson’s account (pp. 90-91 of my 1954 Penguin paperback edition) of the difficulties that Sullivan had with the orchestra of the Fifth Avenue Theatre, where The Pirates had its first performance.
Just before the opening night he had trouble with the band, the members of which voted that The Pirates came under the heading of Grand Opera, which entitled them to higher rates of pay. The position was not improved by the manager of the theatre, who told them that they should be content with the high honour of being conducted by England’s greatest composer, for it occurred to them that they should be paid more for the high honour as well as for the Grand Opera, and they raised both points when threatening to down instruments. Sullivan adroitly turned the tables on them. He disclaimed the greatness that had been thrust upon him and said that he felt the honour of conducting such a brilliant orchestra. He even hinted that his work was not worthy of them and that if they felt so too, he should wire at once to England for a less sensitive orchestra. They agreed to abase themselves on the same terms as before.
That’s pure Sullivan. On the surface all obligingness and ingratiation, but underneath it a determination to get the job done, albeit with much nerve-wracking and exhaustion- and illness-inducing procrastination and deadline stretching, and to profit from it as much as possible.
Pearson’s account continues:
On the night of 30th December, after the final dress-rehearsal, Sullivan returned to his hotel and began work on the overture, finishing at five o’clock on the morning of the 31st, and rehearsing it six hours later. He was not well enough to eat that day, so went to bed in the afternoon and tried to sleep. Still feeling wretchedly ill and worn out with fatigue, for he could not sleep, he rose, dressed slowly, and wandered off to a club, where he had twelve oysters, and a glass of champagne. More dead than alive, he went on to the theatre, took his place in the orchestra, lifted his baton, and The Pirates of Penzance swept New York off its feet.
A composer-conductor’s lot is not a happy one, or not the way Sullivan did it. But when the first performance of a new Gilbert and Sullivan opera began, Sullivan’s agony tended to end, with Doctor Music chasing away his miseries, at least while the show lasted.
But for Gilbert, who took care of everything on the stage, the worst part of his ordeal would then begin. He would pace about outside, doing all manner of weird and irrelevant things, returning only at the end of the show to learn how it had gone, and to join with Sullivan in accepting the applause, which was generally tumultuous.
New haircuts seem to be everywhere right now. My friend Adriana the Media Influencer felt that she would be better able to influence media if she had her hair cut. Here’s how she looked and looks, before and after:
As you can see she looked good before. But it is a definite change of image.
Meanwhile, I too had earlier undergone an equally definite change of hairdo. Here’s the Before and After of how that alteration has worked itself out:
Again there are pluses and minuses to be noted on both sides. The Before look said: Here is someone who said what he meant and meant what he said. Why else would I have said it? Obviously, no one was paying me. The After look is all very affluent and sexy, but does that well-groomed surface make much of a statement? Is their substance behind that sleek exterior?
Despite such reservations, I feel, on balance, more at ease with my new look.
One of the more damaging assumptions you can make is to assume that everyone is like you, with the same values, ambitions, preoccupations and interests as you have.
In my career counselling I constantly come up against this assumption, and with careers it can be very damaging.
For instance, suppose you want to be a brain surgeon. Fine. No problem about that. If that’s what you want, that’s what you want. But suppose you assume, without even thinking about it, that everyone else in the world also wants to be a brain surgeon, merely because you cannot imagine anyone not wanting to be a brain surgeon. President Bush? Failed brain surgeon. Mick Jagger? Only joined the Stones when Brain Surgery School threw him out. Madonna? She’s so weird because she really wanted to be a brain surgeon but they wouldn’t let her. That shopkeeper with the idiot grin on his face all day long, who does he think he’s kidding? He really wants to be a brain surgeon, but he’s not! What a loser! Your dad? A failure. Having failed to make it in brain surgery, he had to make do with becoming the assistant head of Microsoft.
You can see how that kind of thinking would give you a rather distorted view of other people, other people’s states of mind, and of the world generally.
And when it comes to your own career, the assumption that everyone else is just like you and wants just what you want leads inexorably to the following conclusion: You have virtually no chance of becoming what you really want to be, because you are competing with the entire rest of the world.
But you aren’t. Most people do not want what you want. Or what I want.
These thoughts were triggered by my only posting here on Wednesday, which was a link to this. I got that link from Iain Dale, who is a British political blogger of tremendous grandeur with far more readers than me. I thought: Is this posting adding anything? I thought: Does anyone in the world read me, and not read Iain Dale? But of course, there are quite a few such people. I am interested in everything that Iain Dale writes just now, and I am always fascinated to read whatever emerges from my own keyboard. But not everyone is like me. Many like Iain Dale, and shun me. But, by the same token, others ignore Iain Dale, but read me, if only because he goes on and on about British Conservative politics, and I don’t.
One such person linked to that posting of mine. He didn’t credit Iain Dale for drawing his attention to that mobile map of Middle Eastern history. He credited me. For which much thanks, of course. (He also linked to this posting, ditto.)
And the blogging moral is that no matter how popular you think one of your favourite blogs might be, there is a universe of people out there who have no interest in it, but a few of whom are nevertheless fond of your little blog. So if Mr MegaInstaAlistPundit writes something, or links to something, that you think is really cool, and you say that on your tiny little blog which oscillates wildly and unpredictability between kittens (or your own preferred alternative to kittens) and your favourite variety of politics or anti-politics, some people – not necessarily very many people, but some people - will be hearing about that particular item of coolness for the first time. And some of those some people may actually agree with you that it is indeed cool.
My search for the perfect mobile computer continues. (Remember this.)
We’re nearly there. This would be quite a good holiday computer, with the capacity to write, internet (presumably, although I’m not sure of all of the ramifications of that, e.g. cost), and view photos. The screen is 7 inches wide, the hard disc is 60gb, and there is an SD card slot. Behind the screen is where the action is, and the thing is still rather heavy. Plus, I don’t like that the screen is somewhat small compared to the thing itself, like an early laptop. But, the keyboard is nice, and folds easily in the middle, like a Christmas card.
And unlike that Samsung gizmo, it is available to Londoners. But, too expensive. It costs about £700. I want this kind of thing for £400 and preferably nearer to £200.
Yes, phab photos by Fabio, whoever Fabio is. I went from this posting . . .
At which point I stopped, because I have a life, or like to think that I have.
I really should get properly Flickred.
I have a whole clutch of the Penguin Atlases of Ancient History, Medieval History, Modern History, American History, etc., and they’re really good, with lots of verbiage of course, but this communicates much more in far less time.
That’s if you can get hold of it. I got it when I first wrote this, but then when checking the link moments later I got an error message. And some of Iain Dale’s commeters report similarly. My advice is: keep trying.
UPDATE: Moments after moments later, I got through.
Michael Jennings was in Seoul yesterday morning, but filling in some blank jetlag hours by reminiscing about his visit to Aarhus on November 11th, on Samizdata. And he supplies the brianmicklethwait.com quote of yesterday:
I have to admit I have a lot of respect for people who take their small children to look at container ships.
These were not just any container ships. They were Estelle (brand new and still de-troubling the last of her teething troubles) and Emma (now very much in business) Maersk, the two biggest container ships in the world.
When I was young, I distinctly recall how we were all taken by my mum to visit a potato crisp factory.
My friend Elena the Struggling Actress has just acquired a new mobile phone complete with a 3.2 megapixel camera. With it she took and then emailed to me this photo, of the current Fortnum and Mason Christmas window display.
What is so great is how like the original illustration this looks.
Although, Fortnums have added a chocolate cake.
Almost as soon as I flagged up on Samizdata this morning, in connection with flagging up my recent conversation with Perry de Havilland, that I and Alex Singleton were going to do another of classical music conversations, this time about Gilbert and Sullivan, this afternoon, in fact only minutes later, we postponed it until later in the week minimum.
Alex and I have decided to go about our conversations in a more disciplined manner, with a pre-decided topic which we will both think about beforehand, and from my end this approach is already working superbly. I have already learned all kinds of G and S things, most especially about S, Sir Arthur Sullivan.
For instance, I managed to dig out a book from my chaotic shelves by Hesketh Pearson, published in 1935 (my paperback is 1954), entitled Gilbert and Sullivan, and very helpful it is proving. In it, I found this charming description of Sullivan’s musicological exploits on the continent, with his friend George Grove:
He and Grove had done much to popularize both Schumann and Schubert in England, but they longed to discover some of the latter’s lost music and so to found his reputation more securely. Above all, they wanted to find the missing portions of the Rosamunde music. With this object in view they went to Vienna in the autumn of 1867, visiting Madame Schumann and the birthplace of Mozart on the way. Spina, the Viennese music-publisher, received them rapturously, produced piles of manucripts and shut them into a room with plenty of cigars. For a week they pored over the dusty pages of forgotten composers, and though they found much of interest there was no sign of the work for which they hungered. Spina’s clerk, Dőppler, had known Beethoven and Schubert, and they listened with amazement while the old man, hardly realizing that he had once walked with gods, told anecdotes of life on Olympus. They were introduced to one of Schubert’s relations, Dr Schneider, who produced a deal of musty material from his cupboard, but not what they were looking for. On the last day of their visit they went to take leave of Schneider, who said that he believed he had once had a copy of the Rosamunde music. Grove asked whether he could rummage in the cupboard and see for himself. The Doctor assented, but warned him that he would get covered with dust. Grove was hunting diamonds and did not mind the dust. He entered the cupboard, and after several suffocating minutes emerged with the part books of the entire Rosamunde music, which he had found carefully hidden beneath everything else. Delirious with excitement, Sullivan and Grove sat up till two the next morning copying the parts, and concluded their labours with a game of leap-frog.
It’s terrifying how arbitrary history is about preserving things.
Yesterday I spent a delightful day with Goddaughter One, walking along just a few of the river and canal banks of East London, not far from where she lives. Both of us have the Billion Monkey bug bad, and the good news is that Goddaughter One’s current camera uses the same Compact Flash cards that I used to use and still had a small stash of, so I was able to pass these all on to her. She may be about to upgrade to a Digital SLR, to enable her to control the focussing in particular and overall artistic results in general more tightly than she can now, but the SLRs she has her eye on also use Compact Flash cards. Sometimes, things just work out.
On a fine day like yesterday, these waterside places become a magical secret land that a central Londoner like me would never normally see, of slightly muddy towpaths, along which joggers and polite cyclists can journey for vast distances while hardly ever setting trainer or wheel on a road, on their own version of the M25. Goddaughter One and I only travelled for about five degress, such was our leisurely progress. After yesterday, I feel like I have another 355 degrees yet to explore.
Some of the buildings next to the water are domestic, cute and no doubt rocketing in price, but most are still industrial. Sometimes distant landmarks, such as the Gherkin or the Docklands towers, can be glimpsed. More often, the architecture is what I suppose you’d call Seventies Modern Vernacular of a sort that without the water would be very dull, but next to the water, and what with all the greenery of lower land prices than next to most of the London bits of the mere Thames, has a charm all its own. However, the 2012 Olympics are rapidly approaching and will no doubt change a lot if this part of London into something smarter, more developed and less mysterious.
Yesterday was the first nice day for ages, and if anything it was, photographically speaking, too nice, with bright sunshine out of a cloudless sky of the kind that even in the depths of winter can burn the top off a city photograph, or else plunge its nether regions into a most unrealistic state of darkness. But walking by the river offers many opportunities to take the dazzle out of such light by bouncing it off the water, as the pictures below often illustrate. Buildings that are bleached almost completely white, suddenly burst into all manner of varied colours in their reflections. Even the dreariest modern structures, especially in the bright sunlight of yesterday, can result in wondrous reflections which the human eye doesn’t make much of, but which cameras love.
The graffiti where I live is all hostile, and fiercely resisted by Westminster City council. But this is a world, with no buildings that are venerably ancient and few that are even shinily modern such as would be hurt by it, in which graffiti seems to fit in and to be welcomed. The wall paintings here have an artistic confidence, and hence a welcome appearance to them, that is quite lacking in my part of town. When smaller and more unofficial freelancers join in with smaller and more mysterious squiggles, that too feels like a natural part of the local ecology.
Goddaughter One loves to photograph things like bags and beer cans stuck in trees or floating in water, ending up with snaps that blur the distinction between humankind and its detritus and nature. This is not to my taste, but each to his/her own. Whatever is your preferred subject matter, stick with it, and you’ll get good at it. And in general, photo the stuff that the tourists don’t bother with. And photo things like plastic bags, because they’ll be utterly different in a decade and the photos will mature in treasurability, like a wine collection.
Part of our walk involved a couple of detours away from the water, when waterside progress was interrupted by construction work, or when Goddaughter One wanted to show me the best local view of the Docklands Towers. Those detours were also most pleasing. I photographed street names, so that I could later check in my A-Z exactly where we’d been, a procedure that I recommend to all Billion Monkeys when they wander about in strange parts of town.
Click and enjoy.
Somewhat over a week ago, and apologies for the delay, I did another recorded conversation, this time with my good friend Perry de Havilland.
Perry is the founder of and principle writer for Samizdata, and that’s what we talked about. How did Perry get to think like that? How did Samizdata get started (a little over five years ago)? What’s it for (and not for)? What might be its consequences? (Who can really say?)
The hyphenated word meta-context loomed large, as it always does when Perry is explaining what Samizdata is all about. The purpose of Samizdata is not to take different sides in the same old party political arguments, but to change the assumptions behind and beneath these arguments, to challenge what tends now to be agreed by all parties.
Our conversation lasted just over forty minutes, but as you will hear if you listen we had to pause and relocate after about ten minutes, which caused a slight hiccup but no more. However, the hiccup did delay me getting this up and ready to listen to, because it meant I had to do so editing, which meant I had to learn how to do editing, which until now I have studiously avoided. It turned out to be quite easy, assuming I have now got it right, but I didn’t know that beforehand, did I?
Also, I wanted to get my reaction to that play I saw on Wednesday up in a hurry, what with the play’s run soon ending. That was urgent. The Perry de Havilland conversation was merely important. Neither the subject nor the way we talked about it will date. Samizdata is about challenging and changing basic assumptions, not merely about participating in today’s passing political drama. I procrastinated because I could. So, what with both me and my computer also having recently been struck down with various maladies and interruptions, I’ve only just finished the job. Sorry about that and all that, but you get what you pay for here.
Anyway, there it is. I hope you find it interesting. As I said at the end, I did, very much. Which is one of the basic reasons I am keeping on with these things. You never really know how many people will want to listen to such conversations. But if I do, that’s a good reason to carry on, probably the best.
The night before last I went to a play, called Hellcab by the American Will Kern. It was, as I have already said yesterday, very good. My attention was held throughout, and there were, I thought, no weak links in the caste.
The performance venue is the Old Red Lion, which is a pub just near the Angel tube station, with a small upstairs theatre. Downstairs there were giant screens with Wigan/Arsenal going on, which I also thought was good because you got real close to the action and could see just how skillful the players were, the way you can’t on regular TV.
The upstairs theatre seats about sixty or so, with the people in the front row where I and my friends were having their feet on the stage, so you get very close to the action there too. I should guess that acting in such a small theatre gives you an extra chance to shine, but that it also gives you an extra chance to be crap. In my opinion the caste of five all shone.
The play takes the form of a series of encounters between a Chicago taxi driver and the more eccentric, unhappy, distraught, drunk, drugged, and/or just plain weird of his numerous customers during one long day, which the other actors take it in turns to play. The set for the whole show consists of the seats and the steering wheel of the taxi, but no bodywork, with the back seats a bit higher up. So you can see the passengers’ faces clearly.
There is not much in the way of a plot. At one point I was expecting some of the various separate story lines to start intermingling, and for things to be achieved, and resolved, for progress to be made, good people to be helped and for bad people brought to some kind of justice. One of the people who gets into the taxi, for instance, is a rape victim, and I wondered if a subsequent passenger might be the rapist, and if maybe the driver would take him to the cops instead of to his preferred destination.
But that is not the kind of play it is, and that’s its point. The taxi driver can do hardly anything about the “hell” he finds himself in, and which climbs in and out of his taxi. He takes the people where they want to go. He talks to them as best he can, offering comfort to those who want it, evading the weird overtures and defusing the weird threats of the weird.
None of the many passengers are just regular folks who just want to get from A to B and who don’t want to talk about it thank you very much. Which is either a complaint that the play is rather implausible or an explanation of why it is so unfailingly engrossing and entertaining.
Politically, I imagine that Hellcab author Will Kern and I do not see eye to eye. The one explicit dig at Republicans I could take happily, but I don’t like it so much when space travel is mocked, as it was mocked in the person of a crazy guy passenger who was for it. But, this was Urban Democrat territory, and if you don’t like Urban Democrats you’d note that Urban Democrat territory looks to be a fairly disastrous place, if this play is anything to go by, not that this would be Will Kern’s preferred moral of all his various stories. He would probably say, although of course I don’t know, that more Republicans should be separated from more of their money and that the proceeds of such increased thievery should be thrown in the general direction of the Urban Democrat wasteland, the hell, that Will Kern describes in this play. Which as far as I’m concerned is an erroneous opinion that Will Kern is perfectly entitled to hold, if he holds it. Please understand that this paragraph is only here for the more blinkered and right wing of my readers who only like plays by people they completely agree with politically.
Cards on the table time. One of the actresses in Hellcab is Sarah Lowes, who I got to know when she read the part of Helena in that Midsummer Night’s Dream recording that I was in. (It was a education in Shakespeare speaking just to sit next to her at one of the read-throughs.) Our little party was organised by another of Sarah’s friends, and I was basically at Hellcab to see if Sarah Lowes is as good at acting as I already guessed her to be. She is. All her bits were very good, and her mum in labour, screaming at her hapless you-did-this-to-me-you-bastard husband, and at the damn driver to hurry up getting to the hospital, was one of the highlights of the evening.
On the night we went, the drama didn’t wait to get started until the mere play itself started, at 7.30 pm. About an hour before the curtain would have gone up, had there been a curtain, we were phoned with the news that one of the actresses was off sick, and that the show was off. No understudies, you see. Not that grand a show. Then, there was another phone call to say that it was on, with others reading the part of the stricken actress, an arrangement which was confirmed at the beginning of the show. All this on the night when the critic from Time Out was due to be there. Show biz, eh?
It worked out fine, and you hardly realised it was happening. The missing actress was doing various passengers, and the passengers all sat with their faces clearly visible, but with their laps largely invisible behind the fronts seats of the taxi, at any rate from where I was sitting dead in line with the seats. I only realised that Sarah’s star turn as screaming mum-to-be was Sarah filling in for her absent colleague when, towards the end of that bit, I glimpsed the pages that Sarah was reading from. I would never have known if I hadn’t seen that. For Sarah was reading, let me tell you, in a very acting type way. Outstanding.
Given that the temporarily absent Jessica Carroll was picked to be part of this excellent caste, I’d recommend betting on her to be excellent also as soon as she recovers. Sarah apart, I particularly like the contributions of Peter Rae, but they were all good, and probably, when I think about it, the most admirable of all was the pivotal performance of Paul Constantine as the tired, cold and generally put-upon driver, who was on stage pretty much all the time. I especially like how he played the bit when his passengers - Zoe Robinson and Tunde Makinde both deserve a name check too - had sex in the back seat, quite convincingly I might add. And I rather think that Zoe Robinson as the hapless rape victim was filling in for Jessica Carroll also. Again, very successfully.
The directing by Jono Gadsby kept things simple (no complicated scenery), moved things along at a fine clip (with no interval by the way), and concentrated on getting the best out of the actors.
I don’t know if the American accents would have convinced a Chicagoan, being somewhat undercooked and Anglo-ish to my ear. But they were plenty good enough for me and never a distraction. Paul Constantine sounded especially good in this respect.
There will only be a total of twenty two performances of this show, of which the second was the one that I and my friends went to, and of which the last will be on December 31st, so book now if you want to take a chance on this fine show.
The Idiot Toys man, who is a genius, reports: Men gather around a new thing:
Meanwhile, I photoed a great thing, in the tube last night. It’s a lousy photo, because there is little light in the tube and I am old and my hands wobble too much and I was in a hurry, but it’s a great thing:
That’s right, a saxophone played by a Henry! I love London.
Micklethwait’s law of focussing: the more you want, the less you get.
Alice in Austin writes:
Don’t link me saying, ”Evil Texas woman campaigns to stop innocent children receiving toys this Christmas”. That is not what I meant at all.
I know because I am guessing, ok?
Supporting gay marriage! Such an easy way to make oneself feel good! Especially if one is a very wealthy WASP who collects gays as a hobby to hang from the Christmas tree! I’ve got six, how many have you got?
I’ve got only one at the moment, that I can think of, on the go now I mean. Ah no, my new theatrical friends! Make that three! And counting.
So, Alice striking it to all parts then.
The English are doing well abroad then are they? Not entirely.
On Doughty Street last night I told the world that since England had again started quite well against Australia in the latest Ashes test, the defeat when it arrived would be that much more depressing, just like the last one. This one won’t be all that depressing though, because only on day two, this time, the disintegration has already happened.
Flintoff as captain is not working. He is batting badly, and the team is failing. But then again, nobody else has lead England to victory in Australia recently. England are not complete crap. They start out doing well enough to get you interested and pathetically optimistic, and then they lose. It’s only a game, Brian, only a game. Thank goodness I wasn’t up all night listening to this latest debacle on the radio. It is now in Perth, which is several time zones further into the small hours here than it was, and by the time it starts, even I am asleep.
This time with the sun right on them, taken moments after this earlier snap in the same direction. This time you get more of the river, which makes things a bit clearer.
Apologies for thus palming you all off yet again. I’ve had a busy day, partly because I am deep into a theatrical review which I want to get right, or righter than if I had finished it up in the next twenty minutes. Short summary of said review: this was very good.
Tomorrow (Thursday) evening from 11pm to midnight, I will be on 18 Doughty Street TV‘s End of the Day show.
I like that particular hour. And, they give you a car to get home in, which makes all the difference. That’s twice I’ve been asked back. I must be doing something right. Not asking to be paid, perhaps?
One of the regular Billion Monkey things I often notice is this nice thing they do with their fingers:
So imagine my amazement when I spied this snap, of Jackie D, apparently taking a digital photograph with a sandwich:
All Jackie D is doing, of course, is holding a sandwich. She is doing the finger thing not because she is photographing anything with the sandwich, but because the sandwich is being photographed (rather than just Jackie D) , and Jackie D wants to be sure that it is totally visible to the actual camera.
In each case, the fingers are like that to make sure no light waves are interrupted.
I keep meaning to follow advice like this:
It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t organize information well enough to take it in. And it doesn’t matter how skilled you are if procrastination keeps you from getting your work done.
But something always seems to get in the way.
The title, for the benefit of all you newcomers to this blog, flooding in here for no reason at all because of nothing, is that the rule here is: something every day however silly or pointless. I have this rule because one of the big killer causes of procrastination is that as time goes by, the percentage increase per day in how long you have delayed doing the thing in question diminishes, constantly, day in day out. Therefore, the longer you leave it the less, each further day, you suffer.
While doing this posting, I listened to a Handel Chandos Anthem, on Radio 3. I was, as they say, multi-tasking. The Brazen Careerist’s advice about multi-tasking is: don’t.
I like these two pronouncements, which come right next to each other, and with stars in between, here:
Generally, though, if you want to know why someone is angry, just listen and they will tell you.
* * *
WARNING: NO religious wars in the comments! Everyone be nice to each other no matter what you believe and most important, remember I’m the only one who gets to preach on this site.
Here, on the other hand, a religious war (of the merely verbal variety) might just liven things up a little, what with all my physical and computational maladies that I have lately been droning on about, ad, to use a metaphor which I am afraid has been rather too literal for my taste (and I do mean taste), nauseam.
So, for some enjoyably gruesome speculations about the Pesky Muslims and what we may end up doing about them, try reading this.
John Derbyshire compares two strategies for dealing with Islam. There’s chucking them all out of our countries and fencing them off, and then selectively and judiciously attacking them, trading with them, etc., as and when. And then there’s outright slaughter, with Islam itself as the target of obliteration. He says that the the fencing the off option would probably be easier. I reckon that slaughter and obliteration might be easier, but that’s a quibble. What I really want to say is that I like, as they used to say, the cut of this man’s jib (sp?).
Basically, the Peskier sorts of Muslims must somehow be made to realise that if there are a few serious terrorist hits of the sort they now yearn for (as opposed to the little pinpricks with a few dozen, hundred or thousand deaths that we’ve had from them so far), the rules of Western engagement with Islam would then seriously change. Against them.
I don’t think it would, yet, be a good idea for people like the Prime Minister of the UK to be threatening all Muslims everywhere with ruin and catastrophe if between them the Muslims don’t mend their ways. But, the Internet (I think I prefer a capital I there – see the comments on this) can say this, and is saying it. Good. Starting with all those uncouth nuke-em-now merchants at the time of 9/11, and then subsequently with gradually less maniacal prose and punctuation, it has been saying it, for over five years. Very good.
The ‘reform’ of Islam is a huge and unprecedented notion, against which Islam is extremely well defended by its own – seemingly inherent – nature. At present I see little sign of such ‘reform’. The Islamonutters proclaim that Islam means death or surrender to everyone else, and the ‘moderate’ Muslims remain pretty much mute, because, unfortunately, the Islamonutters are right. ‘Reforming’ Islam means rewriting its holy writings, in which it says again and again - or such is my understanding - that these holy writings must not be re-written. This will only be embarked upon if millions upon millions of Muslims become truly convinced that the alternative is liable to be the kind of thing that the Romans did to people whom they seriously disliked, i.e. what the Allies did to Nazi Germany in the closing stages of the WW2 but about a hundred times worse.
As Derbyshire says, in this, in connection with Bosnia, “there is rubble and there is rubble”. He then says:
Armchair warriors like myself are sometimes accused of laboring under the illusion that all the world’s problems can be solved by neat “surgical strikes” on troublesome locations, in which suspect facilities, or persons, are cleanly eliminated with minimal collateral damage.
Not guilty! I am, in fact, willing to confess myself a collateral-damage armchair warrior, who would be happy to see us trade in our inventory of smart laser-guided precision munitions for lots and lots and lots of old-style iron bombs, and fleets of great big iron planes to deliver them. Remember those photographs of mid-1945 Berlin, fragments of broken wall sticking up out of vast drifts and dunes of pulverized masonry? Now that’s rubble.
Oh, and we won that war.
Ah, the reckless courage of the non-combatant! I know just the feeling. You sometimes hear people saying that “I take no pleasure” from saying this or that horrible thing. I have surely said this myself, several times. But actually I very much enjoy saying these kinds of things. Why else would I be doing it? Nobody is paying me for this. No, I like facing disagreeable truths with others find too horrifying to think about, as does John Derbyshire.
I would take little pleasure in such things actually happening, because they would be far, far too scary, to everyone. Even being able to say I told you so would be of little comfort. But that’s different.
A point which I have definitely made before deserves relentless repetition. The way to stop major wars is to realise what they are going to be like beforehand, so that the minds of all those decent middle-of-the-road types who so often (because they never saw it all coming) start major wars are concentrated, by abject terror of the consequences of having this particular one.
Compare and contrast: WW1 and WW3. Not nearly enough important people understood what WW1 was going to be like, which is all part of why it happened. WW3 on the other hand, the fixture described in such popular entertainments as Doctor Strangelove, was widely understood to be frightful, before it even got started. Which is why it never did, and why the very USSR itself collapsed like a punctured beanbag without any hint of military drama, just drunkeness and incompetence. And fear.
So, to repeat, this particular West-versus-Islam fixture, if it seriously hots up, will consist of an evil combination of Islamonutter atrocities, on a quite large scale, accompanied by similarly gruesome Western atrocities against Islam, and eventually followed by Western atrocities against Islam (all of it) on a scale that history has never before witnessed and which few Westerners now dare to contemplate out loud, but which millions of Westerners will contemplate very loudly indeed, once they start to think that if it’s us or them, let it be them.
If enough people on both sides of this potential holocaust get all that, it won’t happen. If enough people don’t get all that, it very well might.
Tonight, Channel 5 TV, The Glories of Islamic Art. Or, if history takes a sharp turn for the worse: the target list.
Just to say that it wasn’t a problem caused by my firewall. The programme that patrols the firewall was merely the messenger that was telling me that there was something amiss with my internet connection.
The background to all this grief is that my ISP has been “improving” its service, by speeding it up, and that is, it would appear, what caused the difficulties. Mark the Computer Guru came round and swapped my old modem for a “router” (sp?), and that seems to have done the trick. So, now, things are faster, and they work. Wish me luck. Mark the Computer Guru is sometimes a hard man to get hold of. But when he does get back to you it is worth the wait. And today I didn’t have to wait long at all. Deepest thanks.
Brother Toby reports on the following email, although I’m not sure if he actually received it, or just found it in a book or something, or perhaps made it up:
Cannot proceed - your server and access software cannot communicate because they have no common encryption algorithms. Please contact your encryption databank paradigm supplier and implement appropriate update.
To compensate for all this techno-grumbling, here is a photo, which I took from the top of Tower Bridge last week:
No artificial flavouring or colouring. That was it, direct from the camera. I love those towers.
Whatever rubbish now follows will probably be it for today. I am feeling better thank you (to all those of you who have asked) but my computer, in the person (I think) of my “Kerio Firewall”, is now spontaneously disconnecting itself from the Internet after about ten minutes.
I then have to disconnect the power from the computer, which otherwise refuses to switch itself off, presumably for the same Firewall reasons. And then when it comes on again, the Internet always works. For about ten minutes. Then bollocks again. So, it must be my computer, and not the Internet.
I am updating this posting one paragraph at a time, confident that any paragraph now, this will all happen again. What that is doing to my RSS feed arrangements, I shudder to speculate about.
There seems to be some malign law of nature that the more you do with a computer, the less well it works. Also, Windows updates, one of which I have had to suffer recently, are bad news.
So, my screen now works, but my computer doesn’t. Hey ho.
Is it perhaps a clue that, ever since that damned update, the appropriately named “TIME SERVER” has refused to function?
Sometimes, things just don’t work out.
Incidentally, and I keep meaning to ask this, is it “internet” or “Internet”?
I have managed to scrounge a reasonably good screen. It doesn’t feel quite as nice as the one that will be replaced in ten days, but that is probably because it is just as good, but a bit different. It is massively better than the sandstorm one. I got it by going to a party, and then being driven with Perry to Perry’s home, where Perry had a spare screen, and then driven back to where I live, by Tom and Noreen, with the screen. So, all sorted in one night.
I celebrate this extreme good fortune by displaying a photo, of GodDaughter One, taken last night at a little birthday celebration for her at her home in Hoxton. It is, as you can see, one for the Billion Monkeys Flash Bang Wallop What A Picture collection, and it makes her look good but suitably unrecognisable, which I think is the combination she would prefer. I was saying only a moment before I took this that if you take as many snaps of snappers as I do, you will inevitably get snaps of flashes going off from time to time. And so it immediately proved.
GodDaughter One shares my enthusiasm for digital photography, and – oh joy – uses a camera that takes Compact Flash cards. I used to have a camera that used these, but now use SD cards, and have several CF cards left over from those former times, which GodDaughter One can now have. We have arranged to go walking and snapping next weekend.
Sometimes things just work out.
Out partying soon, and who knows when I will return? So, again, light blogging today. Plus, the weather is superb and I don’t want to waste too much of it stuck in doors.
Yesterday, I did an mp3 with Perry de Havilland, and afterwards had a nice chat also, about all kinds of this and that stuff. But, no underlining or greenery where it just said “mp3 with Perry de Havilland”, because that needs a bit of editing, on account of us being somewhat interrupted, and having to move rooms. And I have avoided editing until now, and don’t know how to do it. It will, of course, be ludicrously easy when I know how. But, I don’t know how and will have to find out.
I also fixed up to help Adriana the Media Influencer get her book started. Adriana the Media Influencer is now in the USA advising The Man (a giant mega-corporation) about how to do Social Media Etcetera, and, partly because of that, and partly because unlike most people who understand twenty first century geekery she looks good and talks good, all kinds of people are now asking: So Adriana, Media Influencer, What do you do? And Adriana’s answer is to going to be to write a book. Then she can just say: Read my book, and if blogging that, complete Which may or may not end up sounding a bit like this, but that’s probably not a fair comparison. No, she needn’t say it like that. On the contrary, the book will make her better at answering that question.
Trouble is that although it is important for Adriana to write the book, it is not urgent, and certainly not as urgent as the work she is doing telling The Man what to do. Plus, there is always the temptation to think that if she postpones it yet another month, it will be one month wiser and deeper and better. Buet, it must be written soon. So, to kick start the process, she is turning the process of writing the book into an event with an audience, with a date and a time and a place, as soon as she’s back from the USA. And guess who will be that audience. That’s right, me. I will ask Adriana, Media Influencer: What do you do? And she will reply, into my little mp3-pee-o gizmo gadget. Both of us will have the veto on internetting anything that arises, but both of us are optimistic that actually some quite good internetable sound files will materialise, which will help to sell the book and amplify the buzz that already surrounds it, even though it is not even written yet.
I remember placing a bet on Adriana that she would, some day, make it big, (a) because I thought she probably would, and (b) because she looked like she’d be fun and interesting to be a friend of in the meantime. Now the world in general is coming around to the same ideas, in various combinations.
Some people get more miserable as they get promoted, further and further away from what they love to do. Adriana is the opposite. As she gets nearer to the exalted place in society that she was born to occupy she gets happier and more relaxed. She is the opposite of the Peter Principle (which says you’ll be promoted until you reach your level of incompetence where you will then stay until you die). She is has risen out of a bolshevik bog she was born into and up through the foothills of the semi-Sovietised western corporate mountains that she then migrated to, to her level of competence, on a throne, next to and at the same level of the world’s various other thrones.
For more background on all this, hear the earlier mp3 that I and Adriana did (bloggage here), which was also originally going to answer the What Do You Do? Question, but ended up telling the story of how Adriana got to where she now is, right up to where she would have said what she now does, except that we’d already been going on for over an hour, so we said, oh well, next time eh? Next time is now fixed for next Tuesday.
I’ve been meaning to complain about this for some time. I refer to the outrage of male cows with udders, as featured in the Dairylea adverts. Presumably, the thinking that they are cow-toa-ing to here goes that if the wobbly bits are between the hind legs, they must be male wobbly bits. I can’t find any Dairylea adverts that actually proclaim this absurdity. But, they do.
Stephen Fry cooperated with an earlier manifestation of this blatant attack on Western Civilisation. So much for his claims to cultural superiority.
Boycott all Dairylea products. They are the works of barbarians.
In my part of London it was a bit on the windy side, but nothing like this:
A severe tornado ripped roofs off homes and tore down walls in a residential area of northwest London on Thursday, injuring six people.
Television footage showed a trail of destruction in Kensal Rise, with trees uprooted and cars damaged by falling debris. Tornadoes in Britain are normally weak and rarely cause damage.
What you have to remember about any British weather that is at all out of the ordinary is that basically, we Brits are not geared up for it, because we get any particular version of severity too rarely for elaborate preparations against that particular sort of severity to be worth it.
This means that foreigners are liable to get the wrong idea, when the news says that London was hit by a “severe tornado”. But such persons should read the small print, or in this case the second part of the big print. What kind of severe tornado hits a big city, and only injures a mere six people? Foreigners have real tornadoes, and when they have severe tornadoes, that means severe indeed. But for us, all that severe is is a windier wind than usual. Our houses are just bricks and glass and tiles balanced on top of each other, and our trees are not organised for serious wind either, so obviously if it gets seriously windy, our stuff flies about in all directions. But foreigners should not be confused, or alarmed. We’re alright, just a bit inconvenienced.
Hideous news on the screen front. The good one that died will be replaced, but only after ten days. Ten days!! Ten days peering through the sandstorm of opaqueness. That’s nearly a fortnight, which is almost half a month. In internet time this is aeons. Maybe I can scrounge another screen from somewhere. Do any of my London friends have a screen going spare for the next fortnight?
The horror. I am about to learn if I have any friends.
What, for instance, was this conference for?
One obvious answer is: to enable me to address a defenceless audience, and for it to be recorded, so that now the entire world can listen.
Which doesn’t really answer the question, because if the whole world can now listen, that includes all the people who actually showed up. If they can hear it all anyway, at a time and place of their own choosing, why did they need to be there?
Take me again. I had a belly ache on the Saturday night just after the damned dinner, and got hardly any sleep. (And yes I now have a doctor’s appointment on Dec 20th, thanks for asking.) Not good, because my speech was on the Sunday. I did drag myself in around mid-morning, but just missed the one session I had actually been looking forward to hearing, the one about radical Islam. Claire Fox is always worth hearing, and Perry de Havilland was also speaking and I especially wanted to hear what he had to say. But, I got there just as the session was ending.
However, I can now listen to that also, whenever I like.
Clearly the main thing that conferences are still for is for is to enable those who attend them to meet one another. Conferences are to enable me to meet Leon Louw and fix to do a recorded conversation with him, which the world can then listen to, even though at the original event the world, apart from Leon Louw and me, was conspicuous by its total absence.
So that’s what conferences are for. But the next question is: what should they consist of? Just speeches that you can hear later, or even probably read beforehand? Conversations between exciting people? Recently Adriana the Media Influencer has been telling me of her exploits, participating in and organising corporate conferences. Her attitude is: don’t just have people orating, have an actual conversation. But might that not become similarly obsolete, what with those also become ubiquitously accessigble, as Skype merges with podcasting, as it is already doing. (My next technical hurdle when doing my mp3s will be to do one over the telephone instead of face to face. Starting with Antoine.)
Jackie D has thoughts about how the LA might do conferences in the future, with a wiki, and . . . things. Although, for some reason her contribution to the last conferences doesn’t seem to be available as a sound file.
Today I celebrated feeling Much Better by going out and about in lovely London. (I can’t look at photos properly, with my horrid substitute screen, but I can still take them.) And when I returned I was exhausted, so today is going to be another day of low-calorie blogging, I’m afraid.
If one symptom of feeling Much Better, for me, is the desire to go out, pretty much anywhere, another is a renewed capacity to enjoy music. This evening, after I had rested from my exertions, I have found everything I listened to to be superb. On my travels I had found a DVD of a concert given in Athens by Rattle and the BPO, with Barenboim playing the Brahms First Piano Concerto, but at a sensible price (£6) instead of the usual new DVD ridiculousness (more like £25). I put it on, if only to learn at once if it would play in my new DVD player, despite its odd region code. It did! I slept through the first movement, because I was tired and I can sleep through anything. (Only silence keeps me truly awake, for some reason.) And I then greatly enjoyed the last two movements. Then, I enjoyed, even more than the Piano Concerto, the Schoenberg orchestral arrangement of the Brahms Piano Quartet op. 25, which I have never previously taken to. Maybe it was the luscious playing of the Berliners, revelling in every moment of it, egged on by a superbly indulgent Rattle like a cat who has got the cream. But maybe it was just me, feeling Much Better.
Then I put on the first two symphonies of Carl Nielsen, LSO, Schmidt, now on Regis. (And remember that the first two Nielsen symphonies are generally considered by all, including by me, to be less wonderful than 3, 4 and 5.) Regis sells the complete set on three CDs for a bargain basement price, as it sells all its CDs peace be unto it, and I got them for less than half what Regis charges. And they sound fabulous! I’m listening to the end of 2 now. What energy, verve, harmony, melody, and all round wonderfulness. Again, is it Nielsen, Ole Schmidt and the LSO? Or me?
The Amazon reviewers of these discs give them four stars, but then Amazon reviewers give everything four stars. Which I believe to be a very profound observation. As I will explain at profound length, probably at Samizdata because it’s rather political, some other time.
I’m back, sort of. It was my screen that was misbehaving, and I have a screen back, but, the previous one. When I made the switch from the screen I am now using to the one that broke down I didn’t notice that much of a huge difference. But now I notice an enormous difference. This old screen is crap! Blogging with it is like blogging in a sandstorm.
Many things probably follow from this still unsettling circumstance, the most obvious of which is that until I have a nice sparkly clear screen back again, similar and preferably identical to the one that conked out, I will not be concerning myself with matters photographic. I won’t show any photos, because I cannot even judge the qualify of photos.
And that is all I have time for. My Computer Guru had hoped to call round at lunch time, but wasn’t able to come round until tea time. It has to be one thing at a time for those kinds of guys, and this I perfectly understand. And then I had to leave, to watch Elena the Struggling Actress and her Drama Studio London friends doing a panto. Which was very good, but which, what with Elena the Struggling Actress and a crowd of her worshippers, which included me of course, all going to a pub afterwards, left little time when I got back for blogging.
Tomorrow I will try to say something profound.
I am at my friend Tom’s, because my computer is on the blink. One thing you don’t want is to put on your blog, a blog where the rule is something every day, that you are ill, and for your computer to go wrong and for you not to put anything up for the next three days, and for everyone to think that you are dead. Some of you, after all, would care, and would leave frantic comments. And a humiliatingly large number of my readers would not notice.
So anyway, I am still alive, but may not post anything for the next few days.
Not being able to look at the internet, or even influence its contents, means that I have been doing lots of exciting things. Very exciting things. But, as I say, I am at Tom’s and it would be rude for me to go on about it now.
Even I picked up something about this Threshers deal, and I am ill. Still.
Jackie D explains and links here. It seems to consist of (a) a big price cut and (b) that’s it, i.e. the internet spreading the word and not great big adverts etc.
Makes you realise how expensive adverts are, if you don’t need them any more to hear about stuff.
You can see why the BBC would like though, wouldn’t you? No need to advertise on commercial telly!
Next up: the BBC License Fee.
I watched a fun little gay but not completely gay movie the other day, called Eating Out. There is a gay romance and a straight(ish) romance. A gay man gets his man. A straight man gets his girl by pretending to be gay, because she likes gays, or straightening gays, or something. I couldn’t fathom the nuances.
Anyway, in among all this I caught this excellent snatch of dialog which said what I have often wanted, not to say, but have often wanted someone to say:
Him: “Don’t take it personally.”
Her: “I am a person. How else am I supposed to take it?”
I can’t swear to the exact wording, but that was pretty much it. The Her in this looked a bit like Stiffler’s Mother in the American Pie movies, but she actually wasn’t.
Meanwhile, on BBC1 TV I’m watching an old favourite, Eyes of Laura Mars. The thing about this movie is that I love it but find the plot to be barking bonkers. Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones both do their things to perfection, as does everyone else involved, apart from whoever made up the story.
Or, was the only way to make this great movie to attach it to this ridiculous story?
Yes. Just spent the last twenty four hours being sick, trying to sleep it off, and in among it all cancelling various commitments. Sorry Jackie. Sorry Perry.
Thanks for all the comments. Leon Louw obviously went down pretty well.
And there was me thinking that the second test match would be beginning just around now, that is, as it turns out, midnight on Friday, first thing Saturday. I suppose deep down I imagined that what with me being ill, they would postpone that by twenty four hours also. But no! And England seem to be doing not too shabbily. England only three down. McGrath and Warne no wickets between them.
Well, it was either a barf by barf description of my day, or boring rubbish about the cricket. I know which I would prefer.
On Tuesday evening, Antoine Clarke talked with me about the US midterms. He didn’t try to wriggle out of it; he got the US midterms wrong. He had the Republicans winning both the big ones, when what really happened, as all the world that cares knows, was that the Democrats won both the big ones. The Democrats only gained one of the big governorships, and Schwarzenegger held the governorship of California as Antoine predicted. But basically, Antoine had to eat humble pie, wrapped in his shirt.
The big thing that Antoine now sees which he didn’t see coming was that the Democrats have now overtaken the Republicans in their use of the internet, blogs etc. Long before this election, Lord Kos, or whatever they call him, of Daily Kos, was a big cheese among Democrats. Now it’s official. Kos the Kingmaker. Via the new media, Democrats have targetted money with an intelligence that was an order of magnitude more intelligent than the Republicans were able to manage.
I could go on, but Antoine tells the story far better than I could, so, listen to him do that. He remains an expert on US elections in my eyes, even if he called these particular ones wrong. It’s about forty minutes long, and as usual, well worth a listen.
Talking of forty minutes, I have decided to get a special alarm-clock-stroke-egg-timer, the sort that is liable to be shaped like a pig, which is not concerned with the time in a general sense, of what time it is, but is entirely concerned with how much time there is left before it goes ping or wah wah or whatever. And I will keep this pig with all my other podcasting impedimenta, and use it just for that. Watches lying on the table don’t do it. All they tell you is that it is now 7.47pm. But what the hell time did we start? Search me. The pig will tell me. But, no ticking of course. I don’t mind if the pig interrupts the conversation after half an hour or whatever. I’m not the BBC. That’s what it will be there to do.
STOP PRESS: Antoine has just started a new blog:
The reason I’ve started this blog is to provide me with one platform for all my postings, on blogs and elsewhere.
I shall also be using the blogroll feature and splitting my writing into categories: elections, health policy, politics, interesting stuff I come across.
So I guess that means that this blog is either stopping, or else being swallowed by the new blog. Or something. No doubt all will be clear soon.